Oregon State (0-1) at Washington (0-0)
8 p.m. Saturday, Husky Stadium
TV: FS1. Radio: SportsRadio 950 KJR.
Latest line: Huskies by 13.5 points.
UW key players
RB Richard Newton: 498 rushing yards, 4.3 yards per carry, 11 total TD (2019)
WR Ty Jones: 31 catches, 491 receiving yards, 6 TD (2018)
LB Edefuan Ulofoshio: 47 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, 1 forced fumble (2019)
DB Elijah Molden: 79 tackles, 13 pass breakups, 5.5 TFL, 4 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery (2019)
Oregon State key players
QB Tristan Gebbia: 70.8% completions, 329 passing yards, 1 TD, 0 interceptions
RB Jermar Jefferson: 120 rushing yards, 5.7 YPC, 3 TD, 5 catches, 50 yards
LB Hamilcar Rashed Jr.: 2 tackles (22.5 TFL and 14 sacks in 2019)
LB Avery Roberts: 7 tackles, 1 TFL
Stuffing the run
It’s already established that UW’s secondary is loaded (again) heading into the 2020 season. But, without standout defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike, UW’s defensive linemen and inside linebackers need to prove they can stuff the run on Saturday night. That’ll be the primary task for defensive linemen Josiah Bronson, Tuli Letuligasenoa, Sam Taimani and Faatui Tuitele, as well as linebackers Edefuan Ulofoshio and Jackson Sirmon. Ulofoshio, you might remember, announced his presence to the Pac-12 world in last season’s 19-7 win at Oregon State — finishing with a team-high nine tackles and 1.5 sacks to bring home conference defensive player of the week honors. He’ll have a tall task on Saturday against Beavers running back Jermar Jefferson, who rushed for 120 yards and three touchdowns and added 50 receiving yards in last weekend’s loss to Washington State.
Establishing the run
Speaking of the running game, that will be the first priority for new UW offensive coordinator John Donovan — especially considering the fact he’s also rolling out a first-time starter at quarterback. The Huskies are confident their backfield stable of Richard Newton, Sean McGrew, Kamari Pleasant and Cameron Davis can plow through overmatched Pac-12 defenses. But will their new-look offensive line let them? Trey Adams, Nick Harris and Jared Hilbers are all gone. Ulumoo “M.J.” Ale, Henry Bainivalu and Victor Curne are stepping into their place. This is a physically massive UW offensive line that should, on paper, be capable of physically pulverizing opponents. But now’s the time to prove it. The Huskies finished sixth in the Pac-12 in yards per carry (4.17) and seventh in rushing (147.9 yards per game) last season. To return to the top of the conference, those numbers won’t cut it.
UW gained 420 total yards in last November’s road win at Oregon State, but managed just 19 points — thanks to two missed field goals, two interceptions and a turnover on downs. And that lack of offensive efficiency was a trend in each of the last two seasons (and one of several reasons why former UW offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan is currently an assistant at Missouri. UW scored touchdowns on just 61.1% of red zone appearances last season, which ranked 63rd nationally and 9th in the Pac-12. And that number is still somehow an improvement on 2018, when UW reached the end zone in just 56.45% of red zone trips (105th nationally and 9th Pac-12). And Donovan, specifically, needs to maximize his team’s opportunities. It appears UW is intent on running the ball, grinding the clock and grinding down opposing defenses — and that’s all fine, as long as you find the end zone.
In last season’s 19-7 road win at Oregon State, Washington ran for 245 yards and 5.1 yards per carry. In a career day, junior running back Salvon Ahmed tallied 174 rushing yards, seven yards per rush and two touchdowns (including a 60-yard score). And in last week’s 38-28 road win over the Beavers, Washington State compiled 229 rushing yards, 7.6 yards per carry and three rushing touchdowns — and the Cougs did it without standout running back Max Borghi. So, any guesses how the Huskies will plan to attack on Saturday night? Simply put, UW’s physically impressive but unproven offensive line should frequently open holes for tailbacks Richard Newton, Kamari Pleasant, Sean McGrew and Cam Davis. UW’s first-time starting quarterback — whoever he is — should have opportunities for easy completions in play-action. An incredibly rested UW defense should have success against an Oregon State squad that did much of its damage last week in garbage time. The Huskies have won eight consecutive games against the Beavers, and that streak won’t be snapped on Saturday night.
Final score: Huskies 31, Beavers 17